Bespoke Living Travel, Food & Drink

A Foodie’s Guide to the French Riviera

No one knows Saint-Tropez quite like talented young chef Nina Parker. We join her on an exclusive culinary tour of the Côte d’Azur’s most famous town

The Saint-Tropez that I know isn’t all about mega yachts and sprays of champagne. “My” Saint-Tropez is a place of local restaurants, artists, fishermen, bric-a-brac markets, secret cycle tracks, and amazing food producers. This is the Saint-Tropez I’ve been visiting my whole life, where there are still echoes of that old-world charm and the glamour of the 1950s. This is where my food journey began and where I was inspired to write a cookbook full of some of my favorite recipes.

The view from La Ponche beach. Photograph: Helen CathcartMine is the Saint-Tropez of eating crêpes at the Crêperie Grand Marnier, lobster lunches with my Polish grandmother at La Table du Mareyeur, and “beach pizza” on the rocks with friends. If you’d like to taste the very essence of the town – and the region – here are some places that I believe really showcase the best that the jewel in the Côte d’Azur’s crown has to offer.

Travelling around St.Tropez, you’ll find a world of villages and a wonderful food and wine trail

In Saint-Tropez itself you’ll find many great local restaurants that have been there for years. My favorites are in the old town: La Pesquière, Le Mazagran, and La Ponche (all on Rue des Remparts). Madame Duckstein, the owner of La Ponche, says that Brigitte Bardot herself once called her restaurant the most romantic place in the town. It’s certainly the perfect spot for enjoying some tasty Saint-Tropez dishes such as légumes farcis or even bouillabaisse. La Ponche is also a hotel with some charming rooms and beautiful views of rooftops and the bay. Hotel Ermitage on Avenue Paul Signac has a particularly lovely retro style and a large, sunny terrace. Hotel Sube on Quai Suffren, overlooking the port, is another classic place to stay – or to visit for an aperitif at the very least.

MARKET LEADERS
When you wander around the town, there are many tasty treats to be had. Be sure to buy yourself a bar of Senequier’s delicious honey nougat (Quai Jean Jaurès), or grab a naughty bag of praline chocolate eggs from Delphine at La Pause Douceur (Rue Général Allard).

In Saint-Tropez you can also find some incredible fresh produce at the markets. On Quai Jean Jaurès – through the tunnel at the end – is the beautiful mosaic-tile-covered fish market. You can buy super-fresh local fish any day of the week. On Tuesday and Saturday head to the Saint-Tropez market in Place des Lices from 7am until 1pm, where you can find anything from creamy local cheese to homemade lavender honey, and the most amazing colorful displays of fruit and vegetables. There are also some brilliant antique stalls that make the market doubly worth a visit.

Romain Rossat admires his catch of the day. Photograph: Helen CathcartAfter all the hustling and squeezing past the stalls of the market, have a café au lait in either Le Clemenceau on the corner of the square (Rue Georges Clemenceau) or Le Café (Traverse des Lices) – both are great people-watching locations.

After you’re full from the town’s tasty offerings, it’s time to hit the beach bars. For something more secluded and relaxed head to Les Graniers (Chemin des Graniers), which you’ll find directly behind the town. Somewhere that has inspired my own cooking and style is Le Club 55 on the Pampelonne beach. I love everything about this place, from the driftwood tables and light-blue tablecloths to the simple and elegant food served at lunch. The incredible panier des crudités with anchovy mayonnaise and homegrown organic vegetables is justly famous. Le Club 55 and its owner, Patrice de Colmont, continue to keep the true spirit of Saint-Tropez alive. Despite being well known today, it still embodies the same principles as when it started back in 1955: serving classic French dishes in a relaxed, welcoming atmosphere.

Patrice de Colmont carries on the family tradition at Le Club 55. Photograph: Helen CathcartTraveling around Saint-Tropez, you’ll find a whole world of villages and a wonderful food and wine trail. The area is littered with vineyards. My favorite wine is a rosé called Château de Pampelonne. It has a beautiful cloudy pink color and the owners of the vineyard – Edgar and his family – have been making it for years from their stunning secret château. A little further down the road, towards Ramatuelle, there is an amazing but rather challenging cycle ride that takes you into Ramatuelle village.

After cycling you’ll no doubt have worked up quite an appetite, so stop off for a reviving snack (breakfast is especially good) at Café de L’Ormeau opposite the church on Place d’Ormeau. The atmosphere is in keeping with that of old Saint-Tropez, and the owner promises she will never change it. I’d recommend buying croissants from the next-door bakery, too. Ramatuelle is a lovely place to escape the bustle of Saint-Tropez and it’s just 20 minutes away.

La Maison des Confitures, down the road on the way to Gassin, produces more than 400 different types of homemade jam, including its Saint-Tropez flavor: raspberry with almond flakes. It’s places like these that have kept, and will keep, my family and me coming back year after year.

ROADS LESS TRAVELED
The skies in Saint-Tropez are usually cloudless and blue, but if ever there is a dull day I love to head into Grimaud village and have a hot chocolate or one of the special tea infusions at Le Pâtissier du Château on Boulevard des Aliziers. Its cakes and pain au chocolat are mouth-watering! If you fancy heading out of town, though, I would suggest two places that I find laid-back and representative of the real Saint-Tropez. More importantly, they both produce absolutely delicious food.

No road goes through St. Tropez. Only one leads to it, and goes no further. If you want to leave, you will have to turn around.

A place where I enjoyed many of the first important food experiences that I shared with my grandmother is La Table du Mareyeur on Rue des Artisans, Port Grimaud. This wonderful family-run business serves classic, fresh seafood. The ethos is high-quality food that is prepared simply, and I have been going there since I was born. I had my first oyster and mussels there and perhaps even my first crème brûlée. My grandmother was a tough crowd and she loved the place, so it must be good!

For something other than seafood it has to be L’Auberge de la Mole (Place de l’Eglise), where you can enjoy a sensational seven-course extravaganza. This is traditional Provençal food, from pâté in earthenware pots to omelettes with thyme and gruyère, and a fantastic-looking tarte aux pommes. Its stunning copper-pot-filled kitchen and rustic setting again embody all the things I love about this part of France.

Fresh fish with stuffed tomatoes from the à la carte menu at La Ponche. Photograph: Helen Cathcart My list of recommendations could go on but hopefully I have given you a little taste of what’s on offer in “my” Saint-Tropez – somewhere truly special. The places and people I’ve mentioned have all inspired my work and style, and they continue to do so. I hope that after you visit you will feel the way I do about the place and know what French novelist Colette meant when she said: “No road goes through Saint-Tropez. Only one leads to it, and goes no further. If you want to leave, you will have to turn around. But will you ever want to?”

About Nina Parker
Nina Parker’s love affair with the South of France – and, indeed, her interest in food – began while she was still a toddler. “My earliest memory is playing on the beach there, making sandcastles, going to an ice cream parlor in Saint-Tropez, and spending my pocket money on crêpes, waffles, and ice cream,” she recalls. Since then, the 28 year old has honed her craft in the kitchens of Locanda Locatelli, The Ledbury, and L’Anima in London. For her first cookbook, Nina traveled around the South of France in a 1970s Citroën van, hunting down recipes and inspiration for what she hopes will be “an insider’s guide to the unique region I love.”

NINA St Tropez: Recipes from the South of France, is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £20 ($34).